20 November 2007

What makes it 'fine art'?

Alicia mentioned my collages, and I realized that I need to examine what I consider fine art, versus 'hobby art'... and why.

Part of it is related to expertise, not just technical expertise but also the ability of the art to communicate what I intend it to.

I created collages daily for over two years. I'd selected collage as my daily art form for a couple of reasons. One is that I was never very good at collage, and I wanted to see if I'd improve with practice. (I did.)

The torn-paper collages in some of my journals made meaningful statements, if only to me. Likewise, the individual collages that I created and sold... I'm proud of them, as well, and I consider them fine art.

The other reason why I worked with collage in my art journals is because collage is an accessible art. You don't have to be able to draw, paint or sculpt. You can create brilliant collages with no art training at all. I like that.

What do I consider my 'hobby art'? My carved rubber stamps, for one. I have a less than 50/50 chance that the finished stamp will look anything like what I intended. In fact, it's most likely that--at some point in the carving process--the stamp will become irremediably ugly and land in the rubbish.

Photography is still a hobby for me, as well. Yes, my photos have illustrated books and magazines. So, I'm technically a professional. That said, it's still sheer luck when a photo turns out well. I've taken classes and read lots of books, but I still can't seem to wrap my brain around what makes a photo good.

But, my paintings, my fabric art and my collages are among what I consider my 'fine art'. My skills can improve... sometimes, a lot. But, in these areas, I can objectively look at the art and know what works, what doesn't, and why.

I do not have that level of expertise (or objectivity) about my 'hobby art'. Some of it is amazingly good. It delights me. But, most of it is disappointing, and I'm not sure why... nor am I committed enough to the art to pursue its study. I keep the pieces that I like, and the rest--sometimes half-finished--are donated to a thrift shop.

(I'm a romantic. I imagine another artist finding the pieces, purchasing them, and then transforming them into something wonderful.)

But anyway, if I care deeply about the art form--enough to pursue it to excellence--then I consider it among my 'fine art' studies. Everything else is a hobby for me, and sometimes that's exactly what I need.

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13 November 2007

Stunned. And pleased, but in an 'ouch' way

With two more articles to write for the current gig, and one article due later this week, I'm looking at art again. Whew! I also replaced the AC adaptor on my laptop computer, so I'm able to be online more easily... when I have time. And energy. Writing takes a whole lot out of me. I'm stressed and exhausted.

Nevertheless, it's important for me to journal about this right now:

Being offline most of the time has been a huge gift from the gods. I saw how much keyboard time sucks my time and energy, far more than I'd realized. Even when I thought I'd cut back, I was still using too much time online, doing things that are somewhere between trivial and aimless. Five years from now, no one--including me--will care if I took that silly online quiz or hunted down more information for a story that's already overloaded with facts.

But anyway... I've always considered it one of the great tragedies in my mother's life that she didn't paint more. Her early work was absolute genius. Really. Art school pounded her fairly flat, and being married to my father compounded it. But, to be fair, it was also an era when few women succeeded in fine art.

When she needed income, she generally worked in an office. She was good at office work, but it drained her energy so that she didn't come home and paint.

Still, she did the most amazing paintings now & then... and still does, sometimes. It's just so sad that she didn't pursue a full-time career in art. There were times when we didn't really need the income, and she probably could have built her career to financial and critical success.

Of course, that's her life, not mine. Her decisions were her own; it's not fair for me to judge. What's key is for me to learn from what I've observed.

So anyway, I was at the library last week, snagging some reference books for my writing. On a whim, I picked up a few books about painting. One of them is Emile Gruppe's book about brushstrokes. (Gruppe studied with Carlson and Hawthorne, et al... Provincetown school.) I thought, "Okay, I don't need to know much more about brushstrokes right now, but... why not?"

See, my mother studied with Emile Gruppe. I'm not sure if that was when she was in college or afterwards, and I think that it was a very brief time, but I remember her talking about him.

Last night, when I climbed into bed and decided to peruse the book before turning off the light, I was stunned. I saw arrangements of boats in Gloucester harbor (or Rockport?) that I'd seen regularly growing up. Some of the paintings in the book must have been painted when my mother was in his class.

And, my mother's paintings were just as good as Gruppe's. That's what hit me, hard. There was a little of, "What was she thinking, to quit painting?" But, that's one of those look-in-the-mirror things, too.

Yes, I'm writing to increase our income, short-term. Our move-related expenses will probably be in the five figures.

Yes, I'll continue to create fabric art, because I love it. Quilts, wall hangings, cloth dolls, wearable art... it's wonderful fun, at times. But, I'm not sure that I'd want to do that for a living. The sewing is hard physical work for me, though that will improve with a higher sewing table, etc.

Mostly, I'm realizing that no matter what else I do, the painting has to come first. It has to be my very highest priority. Everything else is just "everything else."

If I do anything else--and I've done a whole lot of "everything else," in the past--it's as tragic as my mother choosing other priorities and diluting her energy.

I can't say that I have huge regrets about my past. I've focused on priorities other than art, but they were appropriate for those seasons in my life. I've made a few blunders, and some were whoppers, but--in general--I think that I've lived a charmed life and enjoyed amazing opportunities that others don't necessarily get.

But, for the future, if painting isn't my focus, I'd be making an obscene misstep. I may not have as much technical training or expertise as my mother, but--by my own standards--I like many of my paintings better than hers. (Do my best outshine her best? No. I'm talking about my potential, and the glimmer of genius, especially in my sunrise paintings.)

So, I'm about to remove a whole lot of "ooh, shiny" stuff from my studio. They're things that sidetrack me, and I confuse them with what's really important to me. I'm taking time from the great to pursue stuff that's fun... but merely "good." And, honestly, that's like desserts and junk food; they may add something extra to my day, but they aren't what sustains me.

This highlights the imperative of moving back to New England, where I actually get outside and paint landscapes that inspire me. But, that's next spring. For now, it has to be all about (1) getting there, and (2) building my career as a painter. That's where the future is, and that's where I want to be.

And, this loops back to what I've been doing in my spare time: I need to build a good, fine art website to showcase my work. But, studying the websites representing other successful artists, I'm seeing a steady theme: The focus is on one art form and style, period. Sites like mine, with "a little of this, a little of that," generally represent hobby art. I'd be the first to say that most of my art as Aisling D'Art has been--for me--hobby art.

Yes, that will offend some people. Sorry. More than most people, I'm painfully aware of the flame wars over "what is fine art?" and issues related to external cues, self-esteem as an artist, and so on.

I'm not saying that others don't pursue most of these art forms as fine art, and succeed. Dave McKean's mixed media work, Keith Lo Bue's collages and assemblages, and so on... they're amazing art. I don't want to trivialize anyone's art--including my own--in these areas. Frankly, I'm a great fabric artist, and many of my pieces in other media have been incredibly good.

But, I'm talking about my own art, and what endures. I'm looking at what I create that has deep and profound meaning for me as a person and as an artist. I'm looking beyond technical expertise and "just-this-deep" beauty (said with my finger and thumb an inch apart) in my own work. I'm reaching for something that expresses something vastly deeper. For me, that's painting.

So, I'm writing this to remind myself of this when I don't want to let go--even short-term--of the stuff that's "ooh, shiny" in my life. I need to remember that I can go back and play with that kind of stuff, later. If, after the move, I end up with an office job just as my mother did... that's unacceptable.

The "ooh, shiny" art, no matter how good it is, won't build the life that I want. In the commercial context, it too quickly degenerates into trend watching, and creating "what will sell."

I have to create meaningful art, and the most difficult part of that (for now) is making the commitment to it, to the exclusion of all else... including the siren song of the Internet, and all the "ooh, shiny" dabble-dabble stuff that I could be doing with my time and energy.

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